Don’t put your kid in a floral-patterned outfit because he might get stung by a bee. That’s not my advice; I’m merely paraphrasing a warning published by Parents magazine, your trusted reliable source for vital information on the do’s and don’ts of parenting in the paranoid 21st century.
Lenore Skenazy, the Free Range Mom, chronicles this, along with a series of “expert” warnings issued to parents regarding summertime play in the Wall Street Journal. It’s a fantastically hilarious read. The problem is that far too many parents are taking these warnings way too seriously, and their kids are suffering for it.
Skenazy begins by quoting a doctor, Karl Neumann of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who used his own blogging platform to detail precisely how children should and shouldn’t play in the sand. The extensive paragraph boils down to the simple point that if a kid is buried in wet sand her chances of getting sick are greater than a kid who merely walks on the sand. Victorians would’ve referred to this advice as simple common sense: getting wet, especially on a wet day, can weaken an immune system and leave a body more vulnerable to illness. The advice to have children wear sandals on hot sand and even don water shoes before walking into the ocean (having stepped on my fair share of crabs in my day, I don’t necessarily disagree) isn’t without merit. But, without that common-sense contextualization, Neumann sounds like an agoraphobe.
As Skenazy observes,
Why take them to the beach at all? Keep them at home on a hard, nonporous surface, free of dirt and obstacles, checking frequently for venomous spiders, disease-bearing insects, and sewage. Children should be in steel-toed work boots at all times, as well as oven mitts and chain mail.
The missing element in all this pediatric hysteria is simple common sense. A common sense that, in another era, was passed along from parent to child implicitly. I understand the benefits of wearing water shoes in mucky bays because after several cuts and pinches my mother got me a pair so I would have no reason not to get back out into the water. My parents didn’t treat parenting like a science to be mastered lest they inadvertently harm their child; when a problem arose they addressed it and life moved on. It didn’t stop out of fear and paranoia.
Being a kid these days is no walk in the park. But that’s just as well. Yet another Parents magazine masterpiece warns that to keep children safe at the playground, you should “walk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: These surfaces are linked to head injuries.”
Reads like the warning label on a medication bottle, doesn’t it? Every play set at our local park has an age-range on it in several locations and in two languages. Why? Because the park doesn’t want to get sued if your kid gets injured. Similarly, how many nannies and caretakers have to take out the equivalent of malpractice insurance lest they get sued for damages if the child under their care decides to play like a kid? Daycare centers don’t have swings on their enclosed playgrounds. Why? The reason they give is that kids don’t want to share, which is a poor enough excuse in itself. After all, shouldn’t the children be taught how to share? It’s just one stupid reason masking another: Swings are prime lawsuit material. So are seesaws, for that matter. A sue-happy nation over-produces legal disclaimers in all forms.
Skenazy is right that the majority of problems could be solved if parents did some simple watching and teaching. That is, perhaps, the biggest problem of all: Most parents simply aren’t around enough to do either. As a result, love and care are replaced with legal disclaimers and paranoid pediatricians. No wonder our kids are so depressed. We’re too anxious to let them be kids.